The Startup Institute Celebrates its 2-Year Anniversary with a New Kind of Confidence

This article originally appeared in BostInno.

Boston's startup community has gained 40 new members.

The Startup Institute held its seventh TalentExpo at the Harvard Innovation Lab on Wednesday, introducing Boston's Summer 2014 Class to companies currently looking to hire. Each student delivered his or her 60-second pitch, as the crowd jotted down notes next to individual headshots. Amidst the swapping of business cards after, however, vice president and director Allan Telio admitted he was surprised to be celebrating the Startup Institute's two-year anniversary.

"When we started this two years ago," Telio said, "we didn't know if this was going to work."

Project 11 Founder Katie Rae, the former managing director of Techstars Boston, would agree. She announced the program, formerly called "Boston Startup School," on stage at RubyRiot, the tech community's pay-it-forward-themed networking event, in February 2012, and had no idea whether or not the program would work.

Since, the Startup Institute has graduated nearly 630 people between four cities: Boston, New York, Chicago and Berlin, with a fifth location in London slated to launch next.

"This place is so special and so important to me personally," Rae said at Wednesday's TalentExpo, noting how incredible it's been to watch "people transform their lives."

In Boston's Summer 2014 Class alone, there was: a patented inventor; an underground rapper and hip-hop producer; a historian; an aspiring sales and account manager who spent eight years in the Air Force; and another who quit his comfortable corporate job, packed up a U-Haul and moved from Cleveland to Boston all to enroll in the Startup Institute.

"When I met these kids, I knew they were different," said Richard Banfield, co-founder and CEO of software design firm Fresh Tilled Soil, a Startup Institute hiring partner. Banfield commented on the "youthful enthusiasm" of the students, who all want to be "something more than just [their] degree or diploma."

The Startup Institute features four tracks: product and design, sales and account management, Web development and technical marketing. At the end of the eight-week program, students strive to land a job at an area startup. Yet, although the employment component is a critical part of the program, Banfield noted there's more to the Startup Institute than that.

"Nothing that you're learning from a technical point of view will be the same in five or 10 years' time," he said. What won't change, however, is one's network, and the Startup Institute's growing pool of alumni is one students shouldn't lose touch with.

"Alumni are coming back and teaching classes," Telio said, "and hiring our students."

When the Startup Institute launched two years ago to try and bridge the employment gap, none of the founders could have guessed the success the program would see, not just locally, but internationally, as well. The quality of students joining the program is as motivated as it is diverse. More importantly, participants have shown they're willing to take that leap and take control of their life.

Two years ago, the Startup Institute's founding team didn't know if the program would work. But, as Telio confidently said after welcoming 40 new people into Boston's startup community, "Now we know it's going to work."